Before Mr. University of Detroit, Rashad Phillips, creator of Sports Talk 2319 sat down with the What You Expect podcast for their 50th episode, I had a chance to sit with him to learn about his basketball journey, what he thinks about the current landscape and what goes into his craft of evaluating basketball prospects.
This interview, which has been edited for brevity and clarity, was conducted prior to the passing of NBA legend Kobe Bryant. We spoke in the interview about Rashad’s history with Kobe and on behalf of the entire What You Expect team I want to send my condolences to his family and the millions of people impacted by his passing worldwide. If you are able please consider donating to the Mamba Sports Foundation to help further Kobe and Gianna’s legacy in youth basketball and Mamba On Three to help the others families of the victims of the last week’s tragic accident.
Me: Let’s start with the beginnings of your basketball journey. You started off as a 4’8” high school freshman. There was certainly skepticism you’d be able to have a varsity basketball career. But after being a four-year starter, the 1996 Magic’s Roundball Classic ended up being a coming out party for you nationally, can you speak about what that experience was like going up against heavyweights from that loaded high school class?
RP: I think for me at that time the 1996 class was one of the top classes when you look from top to bottom. Kobe Bryant being the outlier there but you look at Tim Thomas, Winfred Walton, Richard Hamilton, Mateen Cleaves, Mike Bibby, Jermaine O’Neal, Jason Hart, Shaheen Holloway, Lester Earl. I could go on for days with how many great players were in that class and just to go out and perform at that level against guys like that was a testament to the hard work I had put in. At that time, I knew in my heart that my game was high-level but I was unranked. So to go on that platform and display the talent that the local people knew and to have be acknowledged nationally was one of the most monumental moments of my career. From that point on, it gave me the confidence and validation to be able to look in the mirror and say I am one of the best players in the country.
Mid-Majors in the NBA and Social Media
Me: This seems to be the age of the mid-major point guard with Steph Curry and Damian Lillard having great success and even Ja Morant having a stellar start to his career. As someone cut from that cloth–a legend at the University of Detroit–what would you say has led to this phenomenon? What gets a mid-major point guard to the league?
RP: Actually its a simple answer, the criteria has changed with what the NBA is looking for now. They want dynamic, scoring point guards. You know where dynamic, scoring point guards reside? At mid-major schools.
Me: Exactly they have the green light
RP: When I was coming out the NBA wasn’t looking for those type of point guards. And that’s what I was. This made it easier to pass up on me. They were looking for the 6’2” can you bring the ball up, run the offense type of point guard and those reside at the higher majors. Today, the criteria of the guard has changed. That’s the first thing. And number two, social media has given a platform for everyone to be seen. You don’t have to go to biggest school because with social media everybody has exposure.
Let’s take for example Ja Morant. Imagine if he came out in my era. There was no social media so no one was going to see those high-flying dunks. There wasn’t YouTube. There wasn’t social media. There was only VHS tapes. So the things I was doing in college, only the people that were there in that moment saw it opposed to now Ja Morant jumps over somebody’s head and dunks on them and it’s going viral.
Me: It’s on SportsCenter the next day
RP: Everybody sees it. Not even SportsCenter. It’s on somebody’s Twitter. So with the platform that social media has given everyone its evened up the playing field for mid-major and high-major players.
Last but not least, I’ve created a platform at SportsTalk2319 that actually highlights those types of kids where they’re able to get more exposure. There’s going to be more mid-major point guards that get a chance to play in the NBA because of those three things.
The Current College Basketball Landscape
Me:. Lately college has been dominated by the one-and-done crowd. It appears the NBA will be reverting back to allowing high school seniors to come out. What impact do you think that change will have on the college game especially where we see guys like Cassius Winston and Myles Powell have such success with four years of development?
RP: I don’t have a problem with it, you have to remember I’m an old head, so that rule was allowed when I was playing. You have to remember Kobe came out of high school and made the jump, Tracy McGrady did it and Kevin Garnett too. So I come from that generation. If a kid can play I don’t think you should restrain him from moving on and chasing his dreams. A lot of people think it hurts college basketball, but to me I think it gives the game more parity. We’re going to start seeing that there’s not one dominant team in college, which I love.
Me: Makes for a better tournament
RP: Right now, we don’t know who is going to win the tournament. And that’s because it’s starting to spread out more and I believe once you allow high school kids to come out and go to the NBA you will even out the playing field. The universe has a way of balancing out regardless and it will work out to everyone’s favor. There’s too much panic going on for nothing, the kids that are ready to make that jump will make that jump and if a kid is not ready, and he still gets drafted, it’ll show.
Me: College ball seems to have the two ends of the spectrum happening at the moment: Four year seniors like Winston and Powell versus skipping out on college all together like RJ Hampton and LaMelo Ball. As someone who had a professional career overseas, what do you think about the comparison of the routes?
RP: I think it’s a case-by-case study. I don’t think that there’s one broad answer. I use the analogy that basketball prospects are like babies, they crawl and walk when they want to. Everybody learns at their own pace. Some need four years of college to become a really good player, some only need one, and then there are players that don’t need college. Again with today’s game these kids are building their own brand before they get to college. I can’t get mad at somebody for capitalizing on their kid’s likeness like a LaMelo Ball, who is already worth tons of money before he even gets to the NBA. I think it’s great for the game that everybody can choose their own path to reach their goals.
Ball In The Family
Me: To stick with the Ball family what are your thoughts on them? As a student of the game what do you see when looking at them?
RP: With LaVar you have to tip your hat off for what he has been able to accomplish: raising three sons, guiding them on their journey of life and making something positive with that. Obviously Lonzo’s growing into a terrific point guard in the NBA right now. Gelo has hit a couple of speed bumps but looks to be back on track. And then you look at Melo, who in my opinion is the most skilled prospect in the draft. I believe he should be the first pick unless Golden State gets it. I think he’s the best prospect in this draft because of his size, his skillset, and his ability to do a lot of things with the ball. And that’s what the NBA is all about, finding a ball dominating guy that can get you wins and LaMelo fits that criteria. I’m really in support of the Ball family, what they stand for and what they continue to accomplish. I think LaVar has definitely developed the blueprint for a lot of fathers. I’m all in support of parents that put their children in position to succeed and that’s what he’s done.
Prospect Evaluation and Potential Front Office Future
Me: You’re about to go on the What You Expect podcast where my good friend Dwa is not a fan of 2000’s basketball. We get into this debate where I say so many players today–particularly players that aren’t guards–have developed that skillset of handle and shooting threes. What do you think of this seemingly ‘new normal’ we see in basketball today?
RP: You see trends where now we’re looking at positionless basketball. It’s going to be like this for the next 15 years before it changes over. Steph Curry has basically revolutionized the game. He’s made it this way: spread offense, three-point shooting, positionless. Professional sports are copycat leagues and once the NBA saw Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors were successful playing that way they followed suit. We don’t need to put our backs to the basket anymore. We need to shoot a lot of threes, spread the ball out and find dynamic playmakers like LeBron, Luka Doncic and James Harden. That’s the way the NBA is going to look for the next 10-15 years. And maybe another kid will come around playing like Shaq and the game will go back to back-to-the-basket again. That’s just the evolution of the game.
Me: Now with SportsTalk2319, you are on the other side scouting prospects. How did this start? What goes into it and what are you looking for when you watch?
RP: It’s a really tough process to do, it’s not for everybody. I know it looks fun from the outside looking in, but it takes a lot of research, guts, and foresight. This is not something I just started doing a couple years ago. My dad used to have me write evaluations on players when I was 7 or 8 years old. This is who I’ve been bred to be. He would bring me to these high school basketball games, give me a notepad and tell me to write scouting reports on the top three players in the game. At the end, I’d have an extra guy that I liked and that kid would turn out to be a good player. So this is a science that I’ve been doing since I was 8 years old. Now, it comes natural. I’m always watching film and using my connections around the landscape of college basketball to keep up with what’s going on. For me, it always starts with the film. Unlike some other evaluators I let the film speak to me instead of trying to speak to the film. That’s how I’m able to dissect the game, make these predictions and use comparisons. My mental basketball library runs all the way to 1980 of players that I’ve watched, studied and played against. So it’s easier for me to be able to see a point guard and be able to make a comparison and say he reminds me of Michael Adams, this player reminds me of Lafayette “Fat” Lever, this other kid reminds me of Alex English. I’m not right all the time. But I’m accurate. My publicist/manager keeps all of my stats and will give me my percentages at the end of the year like, “Hey, you evaluated 80 kids and you got 73 right out of 80.” Right now, my percentage is hovering around 91% over the last three years.
Me: That’s a lot of tendencies that you’re watching?. Where does that fit in terms of the system that a player is in at college versus the system they may be going to in the pros. Obviously we’ve seen where a guy is underutilized in college and they’re getting more of an opportunity to grow and develop in the league. But what about the other way, where maybe you saw something on film but the system that they go to in the pros doesn’t allow them to play that way?
RP: Great question, I’m glad you asked that because a lot of times this is the case when I’m “wrong”. Let’s take Mo Bamba for example. They’ll say, “Oh Rashad, you were so wrong about Mo Bamba. He hasn’t turned out to be a good pro.” But when I looked at Mo Bamba’s tape at Texas he had the ability to stretch the floor, he’s a fantastic defender, terrific rim-runner, great jump-shooter. And when I went back to his high school tape I saw the same thing. Now that he’s in the NBA with the Orlando Magic, he’s not in the right system to be able to show what I know he’s capable of. He’s playing behind Vucevic, who just signed a max deal this offseason. Plus, they don’t really have great, dynamic guard play. Markelle Fultz and DJ Augustin are doing okay now but they haven’t been able to bring out Mo Bamba’s best. So right now, my evaluation of Mo Bamba to the average person looks like I was wrong. But the film spoke to me and that’s what it said. Now you take a guy like a Ja Morant, who I watched his game and said that style of play is going to translate to the NBA, the ability to make passes and score with his off-hand, his IQ, his athleticism and he’s been able to display what he’s done in college at the NBA level. So a lot of times it’s about if the player can be able to show what they do on film and apply it to the NBA and sometimes it doesn’t happen that way.
Me: At what point, I don’t know if this is in your future at all, does a front office get hip to your 91% and your ability? Even with the Mo Bamba example, a team being able to come to you like “Hey, help us out here. How can we use this guy?”. If a GM hit on prospects at your percent rate, they’re easily one of the best, right?
RP: Jerry West does it all the time. He rarely misses. I just think that it gets to a point for me, being in a unique position. I’m building my own conglomerate. I have a phenomenal team around me. Scouting would take away from my overall gift. I never want to restrict myself to one specific thing because I have a lot of avenues that I can explore. But I definitely would consider being in the front office in terms of a GM or an assistant GM role
Sneak Peek at the Tournament
Me: What are you thinking in terms of the tournament? Who is going to make some noise? Who is impressing you?
RP: I think Dayton’s going to make some noise. I think they’re going to shock people. Obviously Obi is terrific. But they have a lot of seniors. They’re well-coached by Coach Grant. I think Baylor has a chance to win a national title. I won’t be surprised if the national championship game is Baylor versus Gonzaga. Richmond is really good. There’s going to be some mid-major teams that will mess up your brackets like Northern Iowa. Also, don’t count Michigan State out. March Madness is always fun. I love it’s unpredictability. That’s the beauty of it. I’m excited for it!
Me: You’re well-traveled in terms of your overseas career. What was a highlight or takeaway for you on that journey?
RP: I’ve enjoyed the entire journey. Good, bad or indifferent. The beauty of being able to play a sport. Whether its basketball, baseball, football, soccer, whatever it is the relationships you build end up being the biggest takeaway from that journey. I’ve been able to create wonderful relationships through playing basketball and traveling to different countries and that’s what I’m most proud of. And what sticks out the most for me is that it has created a different mindset for me to be able to pass onto my children and teach them about how the world works. Everywhere that I’ve been: Turkey, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Germany, Poland, Latvia, France, Italy, I’ve been I’ve been able to take a valuable piece of information or experience from that particular place and apply it to my everyday life and that’s what I proudly hang my hat on today.
Big thanks to Rashad Phillips for his time. You can also check him out on Episode 50 of the What You Expect podcast. Go check out Sports Talk 2319 and all the content there. You can also follow him on Twitter at RP3Natural.